New JRF report – Life on a low income in the UK today

JRF Minimum Income Standard

A new report by Loughborough University for JRF Falling short: the experiences of families living below the Minimum Income Standard looks at the lived experiences of 30 families who are all living below the Minimum Income Standard (MIS).

Making ends meet when you have very little is extremely hard work. More than one in three families in the UK today – over two million families – have an inadequate income.

Some families are managing to get by, but can’t imagine being able to stretch to a day trip or low cost family holiday. Others struggle to afford material necessities like food and school uniforms.

New hazards and uncertainties, such as zero-hours contracts, payday loans, less stable housing situations and benefit changes have made life precarious, risking more severe forms of deprivation for some. Even when working, many families are struggling to meet their needs and keep up with social expectations. A crucial factor is stability: those with unstable jobs, insecure housing or fluctuating benefits are far more vulnerable than those on a more even keel. Being able to fall back on the support of extended family is also critical, with grandparents helping to look after young children while parents work and sometimes paying for things like holidays or children’s activities, or helping out financially in a crisis.

The research, which is part of JRF’s strategy to solve poverty, found that the experience of families is varied. Summarising the experiences of low income among participants in the study, in terms of how well they are coping and whether things are improving or getting worse, they can be divided into four broad groups:

  • getting on
  • getting by
  • getting stuck
  • getting harder

The causes and effects of a low income cannot be solved overnight. Above all, parents want to be able to provide their children with a feeling of ‘normality’ – a basic standard of living that they can rely on. Yet four out of five low-paid workers remain stuck in low pay after 10 years. The problems faced by low income families don’t disappear when they enter work: tax credits are essential in making ends meet for working families.

This research shows how policies which help address low family income need to aim for greater stability in four key areas. Families need stable jobs, with steady earnings that they can rely on. Where earnings remain low and the state helps out, or where people can’t work, they need benefits that they can guarantee will not be reduced or taken away. In meeting their housing needs, they require the security that has been provided by social housing and which at present is often lacking in the private rented sector. Finally, they need reliable and affordable childcare, so that if help from extended family is not available parents are not preventing for working. Support in these four areas would go a long way to providing the stability that these two million families below the Minimum Income Standard crave – so they can get on, rather than simply get by, in modern Britain.

JRF’s strategy to solve UK poverty is being launched in September. It recommends a plan that boosts people’s incomes by making work pay, and making housing and childcare more affordable. A plan that ensures the education system gives all children the best start in life and ensures they have the skills they need to get well-paid jobs with opportunities to progress. A plan that promotes long-term economic growth that benefits everyone. A plan that supports families to stay together and communities to help themselves. By working together with vision and commitment we can take start to create a prosperous society built on decent living standards and opportunities for everyone to fulfil their potential. You can follow progress at



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